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Things We Will Never Say
There are certain words or phrases that seem to cast a spell over people. All at once some expression is all the rage, and there is no escaping it. It is
hard to say anything positive about this particular manifestation of herd mentality but we’ll try: It’s better than a lynch mob.
Have you noticed how many conversations now start with the word so? “So last night I fell asleep reading War and Peace.” What
does “so” add? Where did this come from? How did it start? When did this measly mundane monosyllable become hip?
Here are a couple of other usages that are playing havoc with our blood pressure:
Although a worthless jargon word, incentivize is warmly embraced by the business community. It means simply “to offer incentives to or
for.” Some random examples among the many found online: “We ought not to incentivize ignorance of the law.” “Professor
says legislature should incentivize utilities to improve efficiency.” “If you are going to incentivize anyone, incentivize the buyer.”
Are you impressed yet? Anyone can turn nouns or adjectives into fancy-sounding verbs by tacking ize on the end, but why do it in this case, when
words like motivate, inspire, encourage, and influence are readily available?
Incidentally, not all management mavens welcome incentivize with open arms. The following unhinged disclosure is from a business website:
“Next time I hear someone use this I will reach across the board table, smack them with my laptop, then stand over their prostrate body and pour a
hot cup of coffee into their ears so the last thing they hear is my voice screaming ‘Incentivize is not a word you ignorant corporate drone!’
” Uh-oh. Someone has been watching too many Quentin Tarantino movies.
That’s a GREAT question
Up until a few years ago, one might respond to a thoughtful, challenging query with “That’s a good question” or simply “Good
question” before answering. It was a low-key, cordial acknowledgment. It was no big deal.
Nowadays, when some big shot is being interviewed, it won’t be long before we hear a hearty “That’s a great question,”
even when the question is obvious or routine or insipid.
“That’s a great question” could be dismissed as just a tic, a mindless, reflexive throwaway line. But is it? There may be
something else at play. Some interviewees deliver this empty compliment to assume the upper hand—beneath the flattery is a hint of condescension.
“That’s a great question” is a double threat: tedious and devious. It’s rarely heartfelt. It is more likely either a
stalling tactic or the verbal equivalent of an aristocrat tossing spare change to a peasant.
P.S.: As a public service, this entire article appears with no mention of “trending.”
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
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Rules for Writing Good: Writing Tips
Here are more selections from a perverse set of rules that are guilty of the very mistakes they seek to prevent. English teachers, students, scientists, and writers have been circulating these self-contradictory rules for more than a century.
1. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
2. Don’t write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
3. Don’t forget to use end punctuation
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.